Geoffrey Playford

Flight Officer Geoff Playford

Flight Officer Geoff Playford

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GEOFFREY Playford, who has died aged 90, moved to Yorkshire when he was two-years-old in 1925 to start a new life in a two-up, two-down terrace in one of the poorer areas of pre-war industrial Leeds.

The move from Potter Heigham in Norfolk was a result of the 1920s farming depression. His father had married a girl from Leeds, where he was able to get a job as a blacksmith at Kirkstall Forge

The family had little money, but in spite of this, they put all their savings to pay for the 12-year-old to spend two years at Leeds Technical College.

He used to say that he learned more in those two college years than all the earlier ones put together, and that it changed his life. He left in 1937, aged 14, and after a brief spell at David Brown Engineering in Huddersfield, he worked at Midgley and Sutcliffe, a Leeds firm that was “reverse engineering” machine tools that German firms would no longer sell to the British.

After war was declared, he volunteered as soon as he could to join the RAF in the hope of getting a job servicing aeroplanes, realising from his last years that he was both numerate and technically skilled, and that this was where he could best help.

As with so many people, it was the war that provided the opportunity for him to give his best.

His technical potential and his story telling skills emerged instantly: he was accepted into the RAF to teach other boys to fly fighter planes, not to repair them afterwards. By 1945, now a pilot officer in the RAF, he had trained over 100 new pilots to resist the Nazis and the Japanese.

As a pilot he was skilled, accurate and safe. His ability to explain things clearly and unforgettably ensured that his pupils had the best chance of surviving their first and most terrifying aerial engagements. His pupils, of course, were typically 18-year-olds, all very young men for such a potentially deadly job.

It was the same with flying instructors. Flying Hurricanes and Spitfires in the early 40s may have been glamorous, but it was dangerous, even on home territory. At his flying school outside Salisbury, Rhodesia, now the Zimbabwe capital Harare, 18 of the 36 young chaps that instructed between 1942 and 1945 were killed in flying accidents caused by the constant pressure to produce new pilots to replace the ones sacrificed.

Fortunately for his pupils, they learned from a master. His logbook of 1944 shows repeated “100 per cent on target” during dive-bombing exercises, a feat no other instructor in his training school could equal.

But he always brought it home: the promotion of the back-street kid to Officer came after he returned his plane and pupil safely one fiercely stormy night when his commander had been unable to do the same and paid the ultimate price.

When the war ended he became a chartered surveyor, living again in Leeds, and from 1951, for all his life, with his wife Elizabeth. They spent much time sailing boats together in various places, most especially National 12s on the river Ouse in York.

Mr Playford is survived by his wife, their three children and their seven grandchildren.

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